Back surgery is no joke. I learned that, very, very quickly. My first day/night following surgery was spent in the Intensive Care Unit. There is very little that I remember about my experience in the ICU but I’ll tell you what I know.
It’s loud, you have ZERO privacy and the temperature doesn’t rise above what feels like freezing, no matter how many blankets you have on your bed. Apparently I was mildly incompliant with the oxygen they were giving me through a nasal cannula. That thing dried my nose out like crazy so I would ‘too frequently’ sneakily take it off. Then my oxygen saturation would drop, an alarm would sound, the nurse would come in and put it back on and give me a little pep talk about the importance of the oxygen at this point, under the influence of all the drugs and sassy as ever, I ignored the nurse. So the nasal cannula was taped to my face and I was reprimanded for the umpteenth time.
And the patient of the year award goes to…
In an effort to keep me comfortable, they gave me a delicious cocktail of all the lovely drugs; my pain medicine, I could control via this little joystick button. Overnight, my blood pressure dropped to around 70/40 which is a liiiiiiitttttle low for me. So they diluted my cocktail in an effort to bring me back to baseline. That’s when things really got interesting.
Before mom left for the night, she was sitting on the edge of my bed and started to rub my feet. Let me tell you, I love a solid foot rub. Well this was the Deluxe Daughter version and she worked her way up my leg rubbing my right calf. One problem, I couldn’t feel her touching me. All I could feel was a little bit of pressure. That is when shit hit the fan. I FREAKED out. Not only could I not feel anything touching my right leg but I couldn’t move it on my own either. Mom was literally about to walk out the door to go sleep at the hotel. Before she left, she managed to get me to calm down a little bit.
[And then mom left.]
As soon as she walked out the door the thought of being permanently paralyzed on my right side was whizzing in my mind. No, no, NO! My heart rate went through the roof, I started to cry, then hyperventilate, they had to retape the nasal cannula for oxygen to my face… My nurse, whose name I still cannot remember, I went between calling her Swan and Brooke, came in and sat at the foot of my bed.
“Do you want me to put a call into Dr. Feldman?” she asked. This was something I really had to think about. Coming from working in a hospital for 6 years, I knew what could happen if the nurse paged the doctor in the middle of the night and I didn’t want to get Swan/Brooke in trouble. But I was scared. But she already hated me for having an epic meltdown. But was I going to be paralyzed for the rest of my life?! I needed to know. I had her page the doctor on call. And then I immediately regretted it. I’m a people pleaser and I knew that my nurse was not pleased with me. I started to cry harder. You can imagine how ridiculous this whole scenario was. Bottom line: the doctor on call responded and said not to worry.
Nice try dude. It was going to take a little more than a complete stranger to tell this little ball of nerves that everything was going to be A-OK. I don’t know for sure but I have a sneaking suspicion that I was given a dose of valium after that whole ordeal because the next thing I remember is waking up to a delicious breakfast of jello and apple juice. GAG.
The good news was that I had made it to see the light of my second day, post-op. They were also going to move me out of the ICU and into my own private room with my people (all of my favorites who have taken care of me during previous procedures). Familiar faces make everything better. And I’m sure Brooke/Swan would be more than thrilled to know that I wouldn’t be on her patient list that night.
On the subject of familiar faces, John, Tiffany and Dr. Feldman happened to waltz in. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they obviously had caught wind of the more than exciting events from the night before. What I’m about to tell you is a superb example of bedside manor. Dr. Feldman sat at the end of my bed, John and Tiffany were standing on either side, he grabbed one of my feet and gave a gentle squeeze. “I want you to know that the surgery was a success and everything is going to be alright. You just had MAJOR surgery. That is a big deal. The feeling and mobility in your right leg will return but it is going to take time. Your nerves were crushed in your back and they will take a long time to repair.”
Instantly, I felt a little bit better. I wasn’t permanently paralyzed; I don’t say that lightly, either. I was legitimately terrified that something horrible had happened while I was on the operating table and that my right leg would never be the same. And just as soon as I had been reassured of life as I knew it, Tim the brace man and Pam, my wonderful physical therapist, walked into my room. Oh, this was going to be good. Guess what time it was?! Less than 24 hours after major back surgery and I was going to put my brace on and get out of bed. I started hitting my little pain med joystick button like I was in the last level of PacMan and my life was on the line.
A few days before surgery I had gone to get measurements taken for my back brace. My lovely healing trophy had now materialized before you eyes. In my finest outfit consisting of a flashy moon and stars hospital gown, SCD’s (they look like shin guards and are hooked up to a machine that inflates/deflates them, helping to prevent blood clots), my ‘strong’ socks and enourmous bags under my eyes, Pam helped me begin the painstaking process of getting my brace on and getting out of bed.
Step 1: Very slowly roll to one side of the bed, making as much noise as humanely possible to make sure everyone in the room understands how much said action hurts.
Step 2: Backside of brace is fit to my back as adrenaline continues to fiercely course through my veins
Step 3: Repeat the very first step to opposite side of the bed.
Step 4: Roll to my back, put on the front of the brace and begin to feel imprisoned in my own bed.
Step 5: Hold an unbelievable amount of faith in Pam when she begins the 3 count before hoisting you up to a sitting position; the whole time during which you have a death grip on her shoulders and try not to make her deaf in one ear. Yelling, “Ooooowwwwwwwwwwwww!”
See below for the end result.
That night was nothing short of eventful as I lost one of my IVs. Following the drama of placing a new one and getting me hooked back up to my little pain medicine pump, it seemed as though sleep would, once again, be in my near future. As soon as the nurse had gotten me comfortable and I was teetering on the edge of sleep, phlebotomy waltzed in, threw on all of the lights and got right down to hunting for a good vein in my arm. In the hospital, the patient never wins.
It was the morning of day 3 and everyone, including Dr. Feldman, could agree that I looked a lot better. My dad even agreed that I sounded like a coherent human again. One problem, none of them knocked on wood after making their observations.
An hour later, my stomach was distended to the point that I looked like I had become 4 months pregnant in a matter of minutes.The stomach pain exceeded that of my back. There are no words to describe the intensity and severity of the situation. My ability to breathe became increasingly more difficult as the likelihood for an all out panic attack increased. An x-ray was ordered and the doctors determined that I had an ileus; an obstruction in my intestine. My concern for a solution was immediately overshadowed by the presence of my nurse, Bill and Dr. Feldman’s nurse practitioner, Marsha at my bedside. When they show up as a team like that, it’s never a good sign. They were there to tag team and take out one of the two drains in my back. As they were telling me this, I went from a 4 to a 10 on the hyperventilation scale. And then they said it was the deeper of the two drains. I lost the ability to breathe; how could this be happening on top of everything else in this moment?!!
Grabbing ahold of the side rail on my bed with one hand and gently holding my swollen belly with the other, I pulled
myself into a side-lying fetal position; fear escaping my body in the form of tears rolling down my cheeks. I had no say in this matter, the drain was coming out whether I liked it or not. The whole process sucked; from the peeling off of the tape to the what seemed like slow motion pulling of the tubing out of my back. My physical therapist could hear me screaming all the way down the hall from another patient’s room.
This is the thing about strength, courage and bravery: we all have it. I know I do. And sometimes the sadness, anger and fear whittle you down so far that you react in ways viewed by some as weak or childish; screaming, crying and reaching out for a hand to hold. Guess what? The opposite is true. We are human. Emotions are a natural side effect of life. Holding them in and refusing to ask for help: that is weak. Asking for help and expressing exactly how you feel: that is brave. I wasn’t ashamed of the ‘scene’ that I had caused. I was scared and in more pain than my body could handle.
Still strong. Still brave. Still courageous.